Vatican denies Pope's butler was double agent
VATICAN investigators began interrogating the Pope's butler on suspicion of stealing confidential documents yesterday -- as it was claimed that he had been acting as a "double agent" to help officials uncover others involved in the scandal.
Paolo Gabriele (46), Benedict XVI's personal valet, has been held in custody for two weeks in a "secure room" of the Vatican gendarmerie on suspicion of stealing and leaking papers which lifted the lid on bitter feuds and power games at the highest levels of the Roman Catholic Church.
However, it was suggested by 'Corriere Della Sera', one of Italy's leading newspapers, that Vatican magistrates knew five months ago that he was behind the leaks but came to a "secret pact" under which he would lead them to other moles.
The newspaper said there was no other way to explain why the butler took the "suicidal" decision to keep some of the stolen documents in his Vatican apartment.
But Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said the claim was "absolutely without foundation or plausibility".
He said the substance of the butler's questioning would not be made public because it was an ongoing criminal investigation. But any trial would be held in public and could turn into the city state's most sensational for decades.
The valet was questioned by Vatican prosecutors in the presence of his two lawyers, as well as a Vatican judicial official, as part of the process that could lead to him being charged with "aggravated theft".
If convicted, he could be sent to prison for up to six years. However, observers have speculated that if convicted, he might receive a papal pardon.
The Vatican's de facto prime minister -- who appears to be one of the main targets of the plot -- has spoken for the first time about the scandal.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, said the theft and leaking of compromising documents seemed to be part of a "ferocious and targeted" campaign against Benedict's papacy. He insisted that the Pope would not be intimidated by the scandal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)